The “national program for dams with high hydropower potential”, known as PNBEPH, was launched by the government in 2007. These 12 new large dams, 10 from PNBEPH plus 2 more (Baixo Sabor and Ribeiradio), corresponds to 8% of total installed capacity, 4% of electricity production, and 1% of total energy demand in the country.
At this time, part of the national strategy for renewable energy was to combine hydro with wind power. In fact, the new dams were to be constructed with reversible technology, where this combination gains an important role to avoid wastage of wind power through pumped storage schemes.
Environmental organizations, academic researchers, civil society movements, among others, came together to protest against this plan. The main claims were the disregard for public participation in the decision making process and neglect of cultural and environmental values of the selected sites for construction.
On one hand these movements where somehow empowered by the case of Foz Côa dam (see extended case in this atlas) where the local population, supported by political parties and national and international organizations with environmental and cultural concerns, were able to stop the dam from being built and preserve the threatened world heritage site. But on the other hand, the Sabor dam was under construction at that time after facing intensive opposition led by the Platform “Sabor Livre” (free Sabor river). The river where the dam was to be constructed is home to diverse fauna and endangered species, and called the “last wild river” in Portugal.
This platform was able to carry out organized protests, send complaints to the European Commission, and even to boycott the biodiversity fund presented by Energias de Portugal-EDP, the concession holder. However it was not enough to stop the ongoing construction and the dam eventually became operational in 2014.
Similarly, the construction of Foz Tua dam, located in Alto Douro wine region recognized as world heritage by Unesco, is facing strong opposition. The Platform “Salvar o Tua” (save Tua river), founded in 2013, has received international attention acting on various fronts. This platform brings together non-governmental organizations and people from diverse backgrounds. This platform was able to file various lawsuits against this project, organize information campaigns and create artistic and cultural projects in order to make this whole process visible. In that same year they delivered a petition in the Parliament called “Manifesto for the Tua valley”.
In 2015 this manifesto, which is still online and has more than 7.300 petitioners, was discussed in Parliament. On this day, some of the signatories traveled to the Assembly to protest inside the plenary where the suspension of works at the Foz Tua dam were voted down by the majority of political parties.
In addition to these cases, there were also conflicts around Ribeiradio-Ermida dam on the Vouga river, and in other 4 hydropower plants in Gouvães, Padroselos, Alto Tâmega and Daivões. Once again there was the involvement of non-governmental organizations, participation and organization of the population in protests, petitions as well as the support position of some political parties.
The different expressions of the large movement against this new large dam in Portugal was able to show that the claim of “national public interest”, to justify the approval of PNBEPH, was not supported by many people.
Portugal has also seen protest by NGOs against new mini hydropower plants in the Mondego and Paiva rivers due to their considerable environmental impact. The environmental and civil society organisations were able to stop both projects. The main reasons supporting this decision were the licensing and contract procedures linked to requirements for minimum water of the original river that limit the exploitable flow in Paiva river; incompatibility with the fish ladders built in Mondego river and changes in civil structures that included expropriation of houses in both cases.